Life’s Edge

The Search for What It Means to Be Alive


“Carl Zimmer shows what a great suspense novel science can be. LIFE’S EDGE is a timely exploration in an age when modern Dr. Frankensteins are hard at work, but Carl’s artful, vivid, irresistible writing transcends the moment in these twisting chapters of intellectual revelation.  Prepare to be enthralled.” –Jennifer Doudna, Nobel Laureate, co-author of A Crack in Creation

“Profound, lyrical, and fascinating, LIFE’S EDGE will give you a newfound appreciation for life itself. It is the work of a master science writer at the height of his skills—a welcome gift at a time when life seems more precious than ever.”—Ed Yong, staff writer at the Atlantic and author of I Contain Multitudes

“A master science writer explores the definition of life…. An ingenious case that the answers to life’s secrets are on the horizon.”—Kirkus

“A pop science tour de force”—Publisher’s Weekly

“Zimmer invites us to observe, ponder, and celebrate life’s exquisite diversity, nuances, and ultimate unity.”Booklist, starred review

See the talks page  for the Life’s Edge virtual book tour

In 1708, the chemist Georg Ernst Stahl posed a question. “Above all else, consequently, it comes down to this–to know, what is life?”  

In 2018, the biologists Francis Westall and André Brack took stock of what science had learned over the intervening three centuries: “It is commonly said that there as many definitions of life as there are people trying to define it.” 

In Life’s Edge, Carl Zimmer explores the nature of life and investigates why scientists have struggled to draw its boundaries. He handles pythons, goes spelunking to visit hibernating bats, and even tries his hand at evolution. Zimmer visits scientists making miniature human brains to ask when life begins, and follows a voyage that delivered microscopic animals to the moon, where they now exist in a state between life and death. From the coronavirus to consciousness, Zimmer demonstrates that biology, for all its advances, has yet to achieve its greatest triumph: a full theory of life.